Sunday, 11 October 2009

Lazy Sunday Cuisine

A lazy wet Sunday: what’s for lunch?

I have some nice organic tomatoes from a farmer’s market, a little left over Regianno Parmesan and some supermarket spinach and ricotta tortellini (the fresh kind, not died). On a less lazy day, I’d crank up the pasta machine – but not today. For dessert I have about 200g of good fair trade dark cooking chocolate, and some milk and eggs in the fridge.

To get started, how about a nice sauce for the pasta? Let’s see what else I have and put it together (enough for two serves):

  • a splash of olive oil
  • a shredded clove of garlic
  • bottled herbs (basil, parsley) – it’s raining, I’m not going to the garden this once
  • a sprinkling of macadamia halves
  • 4 smallish tomatoes
  • a hint of red pepper seeds
  • finely shredded Parmesan

The trick with a tomato-based sauce is to squeeze out the juice and seeds. This way you don’t have to cook it down so much and end up with a fresher taste. Start with heating the oil, toss in the garlic then the tomato, herbs and spices. Then the tomato has almost fallen apart, add in the macadamias.

At this point, you may want to add in a splash of good red wine: not too much, you’ll want to drink the rest.

Once the sauce is making good progress, cook the pasta. The brand I’m using (a local one, San Remo) is not half bad if you ignore the package directions to cook to death for 6 minutes. My rule for any filled pasta or gnocchi is (based on instructions from an Italian cook): “cook them until they give up” – when they float to the surface and turn upside down. This time, it’s about 2 minutes. The result: a good chewy texture, and a filling that still has plenty of taste. Australians (judging from the package instructions) share the South African and British taste for flavourless mush.

Toss the pasta in the sauce, add Parmesan and you’re ready to serve.

On to dessert. This needs a little planning ahead of time. I like to make meringues at the same time as I make ice cream because you can use the egg yolks for the ice cream. There are a few simple basics for making good meringues:

  1. never use chilled eggs: let them warm to room temperature
  2. use a copper mixing bowl: this seems to result in getting a stiffer texture much faster (I doubt very much a little copper is toxic: think of what they replaced lead with in water pipes)
  3. cook at low heat (90°C or 190°F for the neoliths): you are drying the meringues more than cooking them

Here’s another interesting trick I discovered. I recently found brown caster sugar in a supermarket and bought it wondering why you’d want something like that. The answer is, you get extra crispy meringues that whip up easier. The colour is a pale gold rather than snowy white, but they taste great.

OK, so the ice cream. The basic idea is to make an egg custard, let it cool, chill it, add whipped cream then churn in an ice cream maker.

Here’s an example:

  • 400 ml milk
  • quarter cup of sugar (double this if not adding something sweetened)
  • 3 egg yolks (reserve the whites)
  • 200g good dark chocolate (fair trade please: if you are going to die of death by chocolate feel good about it)
  • 200 ml good whipping cream

Shred the chocolate. I do this by slicking it finely: it shreds as you slice.

Whip up the egg yolks, gradually adding the sugar, until you have a light consistency.

Scald the milk in a microwave (2 minutes in mine; it needs to be just short of boiling). Add some of the milk into the egg mixture, mix well and whisk into the rest of the milk. Heat again in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, watching for the point where it starts to froth up. Stop and whisk vigorously as soon as this happens, and repeat until you have a thick custard. If you take it too far, you end up with sweet scrambled egg, so take care.

At this point, patience is called for, otherwise you might as well decant into mugs and serve as the world’s best hot chocolate. If you can resist, put the custard aside to cool off, then refrigerate it. Lunch is developing into an all-day affair.

While you have nothing else to do, work on the meringues:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 125 g sugar

Whip the egg whites to a froth, then gradually add the sugar. Whip until the mixture can hold its shape, then drop about half a tablespoonful at a time onto a nonstick baking sheet in a baking tray (I use the baking sheet as anti-crunch packing when I store the meringues, and reuse it a few times for future batches). Put in a cool oven (90°C) on the middle shelf for 3 hours, and leave in the oven after turning off the heat to continue drying.

Back to the ice cream. Once it’s thoroughly chilled, whip the cream fairly stiff, fold it in then put the mixture in an ice cream maker (mine is hand-churned). Work the machine the usual way. Although ice cream is one of the few things I eat from frozen, it’s best eaten fresh.


Arjen Lentz said...

magic extra ingredient for the pasta sauce: add a dash of (brown, IIRC) sugar.

Philip Machanick said...

Cooke the tomato the way I do and the result is pretty sweet. The seeds go bitter if you leave them in and cook it down the amount you would have to if you left the juice in. And you burn less energy in the cooking if the mix is closer to the final consistency before you start cooking.